Bonavista and Port Rexton on our NL Road Trip
We drove south and then north to reach the Trinity Bight and towns of Port Rexton and Bonavista on the eastern side of Newfoundland and Labrador today. We passed by spectacular views, and then many miles of nothing but stunted wind-blown pine trees all mashed together too closely in the forests.
We interviewed John Fisher of the Fisher’s Loft Inn, who came here 30 years ago from Toronto, where he once worked as a consultant and flew all over the world. As long as he had an airport, he could live anywhere so this beautiful place, Port Rexton, is where he wanted to be. John and his wife Peggy said at first they were simply a back-up hotel when other BnB’s were full.
Eventually, it morphed into a larger and larger operation, and today they have 33 rooms and a conference center and they are packed during their short season from May through early November.
This part of the world is being discovered, and as a result, houses that cost $60,000 five years ago now are ten times that much. It takes 26 people to run this operation, including John’s sons, it’s divided up in six different buildings, on a hill facing the dramatic view of Fox Island with their kitchen garden right upfront.
Another great break was the CBC Television program Random Passage that was also filmed in and around Port Rexton.
“We want to be known for sophistication, imagination, and creativity in Newfoundland,” John told us. The Bonavista Biennale, a project that brings artists to the peninsula, sets up art projects in historic and natural places.
John has been involved with the Biennale and with the local art scene for decades, he provides artists with places to hang and sell their work without asking them for any commissions. One of the Biennale’s locations is the Fisher’s Loft Conference Center.
The Inn also offers artists a chance to have a week during shoulder season free to live there and create art. A moose sculpted of metal graces the garden, a creation of a past resident artist.
John’s son Luke helped scout locations for Newfoundland tourism commercials and this too helped bring attention and tourists to the Trinity Bight.
Some bad news for travelers here comes from the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX jets, which meant that the Air Canada service from St John’s to London and Dublin is not running. Some residents had become frequent travelers to Europe, which is only four hours away.
The town of Bonavista is bigger than Port Rexton, but still a tiny village, with many historical sites that date back to the golden days when the cod fishery was the biggest industry here.
At the Ryan Premises National Historic Site, we walked through a museum with hundreds of artifacts that document the lives of the cod fishers and the rich mustachioed man who ran the operation, John Ryan.
The impact of the moratorium on cod fishing in the early 1990s is still talked about here. The shift was dramatic, with thousands of out of work fisherman having to take on new avocations, many of them leaving but others adapting and taking new jobs in the energy business and tourism sectors.
On our visit, we were happy to have cod three nights in a row, because the season has begun and it is legal for commercial fishers to take cod in a limited three-month season. Recreational fishers can take five fish apiece three days a week, but they’re not legally allowed to sell their catch to restaurants.
At the Bonavista Social Club, the garden out front provides the vegetables for the salads and meals, our cod included thin parsnips and carrots with their tops on, plucked that evening from the garden. The cod, we were told, came from the ocean right in front of us.
All delicious, all local, and all in all, a wonderful outing, about 15 minutes south of Bonavista off route 235. The restaurant uses international volunteers from the WWOOF program to help harvest their crops in exchange for room and board.